Aratas Wine (pronounced era-toss) was founded by wife and husband Stephanie Douglas and John Chohany along with John’s brother Mickey. They produced several vintages starting in 2004 but their early wines were made for personal use. Their first commercial vintage is from 2008. The Chohany’s heritage is Hungarian; the name Aratas in Magyar (Hungarian) means “harvest of gold”.
Stephanie is involved in wine on both coasts she is originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. Along with her role at Aratas, she also serves on the board of the Chesapeake Bay Wine Classic Foundation (raises money for charity and has also raised money for the Napa Valley Vine Trail). Stephanie speaks reverently about Petite Sirah – a varietal that is intriguing to her both for its history and for the wines it produces.
Petite Sirah’s roots are relatively recent – dating back to 1860 in Montepelier France when a nurseryman Francois Durif cross pollinated a Syrah with the today little known Peloursin grape. It came to California in the mid 1880’s and was originally planted at Mission San Jose. By the 1960’s it was one of the most planted grape varietals in California.
And their focus is on cool weather climate Petite Sirah. It is difficult to find single vineyards in Napa planted to this varietal – much less finding this varietal planted in the cooler parts of the valley. For several years they sourced fruit from a Petite Sirah Vineyard in Napa’s Oak Knoll District (a region of the southern Napa Valley known for growing a diversity of varietals, and a cooler region then to the north in the valley). When this vineyard was sold, unfortunately the vines were replaced in favor of Cabernet Sauvignon. Later vintages of Petite Sirah are coming from another cooler weather vineyard on the slopes of Mt. Veeder.
The 2018 Aratas “Surreptitious” Rosé is noticeably dark with a salmon orange reddish color in the glass; offers aromas of watermelon and wild strawberry with a flinty minerality note. Features a generous crispness on the palate with flavors of cranberry, citrus, watermelon pith and a lime zest. Very bright finish. Very food friendly. Best paired with the Crab Piles at their Second Street Restaurant in Newport News, Virginia!
The 2012 Aratas Veneration (70% Petite Sirah and 30% Syrah) is as dark in the glass as some magician’s inky black potion. Powerful aromatics, floral with fruit – including plum and blackberry. As the wine breathes it also reveals a black pepper spice component and hints of leather. Supple on the palate this wine offers intense flavors – dark plum, blackberry and boysenberry.
Has depth and richness on the palate without muscular tannins that this varietal is often known for. Big but balanced. Dusty fairly well integrated tannins show on a finish filled with fruit. This is a seriously good wine! And in homage to the Chohany’s Hungarian roots, this wine was aged for 23 months in Hungarian oak (fermented with indigenous yeasts and bottled unfined and unfiltered).
The 2010 Aratas Petite Sirah shows noticeably dark in the glass with very pretty darker fruit aromatics including plum, blackberry and notes of black licorice and darker chocolate. Also floral with notes of violets as the wine continues to breath in the glass. This darkness of fruit on the bouquet continues onto the palate which is very well layered with an intensity of fruit flavors. Long lasting somewhat earthy tannins (somewhat polished by age) anchor a very long finish. A pleasure to consume, 7 years since it’s vintage date.
For several vintages only, Aratas also produced a Petite Sirah from the Shake Ridge Vineyard in Amador County. This beautiful site is owned and managed by respected viticulturist, Ann Kraemer. We have toured this property before with Ann who sells fruit to several other Napa Valley based producers, among others.
Their first big recognition for their Petite Sirah came from a Wine Spectator event. Marvin Shanken, the publisher of Wine Spectator and several other publications took notice of their wine and awarded it the highest rating to a Petite Sirah given by the Wine Spectator in more than 30 years.
While their focus is on Petite Sirah, they also make a Chardonnay. The 2015 Chardonnay was sourced from the Napa side of Carneros. This wine is noticeably dark golden in the glass. Aromatically rich, it reveals an intriguing and layered bouquet including dessert spices, notes of creme Brule, honeysuckle, dried straw and melon. Rich in flavor with good viscosity (somewhat creamy), the finish lingers for some time along with notes of vanilla.
Second Street Restaurant, Williamsburg
And John and Mickey are restaurateurs; both are from Williamsburg Virginia and in 1985 jointly took over operations at Second Street Restaurant in Williamsburg running this as a sports bar until converting it into an American bistro in 2007. The Aratas wines are served in both locations along with an excellent selection of other wines (including some from the Napa Valley and several international bottlings). And both restaurants serve a wide diversity of items on both their lunch and dinner menus.
Slightly smaller than their Newport News location, this restaurant seems to cater to an older clientele. The drive between both restaurants is only about 20 minutes – parking here is on the west side of the restaurant. Appropriately named for its location on 2nd Street (140 Second Street). Note the koi pond in front – next to a semi-outdoor dining space. Like their other location, this restaurant also features a well-stocked bar.
And for those in the area, a visit to the original western settlement (built in 1607) in Jamestown is a must-see historical attraction (only about a 15-minute drive away from the restaurant). Maintained by the National Parks Service visitors can walk within the original fort confines, visit the ancient church on site and explore the heritage of these early western settlers and the extreme challenges they faced when and after they arrived. A nearby museum contains intriguing relics discovered during various digs from the fort site.
Second Street Restaurant, Newport News
In 2013 the partners opened their second, Second Street Restaurant location in the Victory Crossing Shopping Center in Newport News at 115 Arthur Way (Kiln Creek). The feel of both restaurants is upscale yet simultaneously casual. During our visit to this location, we found the dining scene a bit hipper than their location in Williamsburg. Both indoor and semi-outdoor dining are available.
Their restaurants have been recognized for both the quality of the food and hospitality; in 2014 they received a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor. And over a span of several years, they were honored with the Wine Spectator magazine’s, Award of Excellence. During our visits to both restaurants, we found the staff friendly, attentive and the service impeccable.
Be sure to order one of the Aratas wines – hint: their rosé pairs well with some of their seafood dishes! But they also serve a variety of cocktails, beer and martinis (and offer Happy Hour specials during certain times of the day). A small garden on the side of this restaurant provides seasonal greens. Plenty of parking wraps around the restaurant – this location is also easily accessible from the 64 freeway.
The Studio by Feast it Forward
NOTE: it appears that Aratas may no longer have their wines available at the The Studio by Feast it Forward (however we keep these notes here as historical reference). Aratas was one of up to sixteen vintners featured in the The Studio by Feast it Forward (opened in June 2018). This showroom is located directly across from the Oxbow Public Market and packs in numerous experiences in a small space. This two-story building houses an “experiential showroom” as founder Katie Hamilton Shaffer calls it with a focus on wine, food and music.
Each vintner represented offers several wines – several of the showroom’s sponsors have prominent placement including the Gibson Guitar Lounge. A Chocolate tasting is also offered and there is a vinyl station for playing a variety of old records. Upstairs features a demo kitchen – when shows are being filmed here, televisions downstairs will broadcast the live feed. This kitchen can also be used for guest chefs to offer culinary classes.
And visitor’s will want to stop by their bathroom – a television embedded in a mirror plays Feast it Forward culinary shows. The site can be used for a number of events – they have plenty of space in the back of the building. The Ultimate Airstream Film Lounge trailer is often be parked in the back – they use this trailer when they are on the road hosting unique lifestyle events. One such event at the showroom might be the “Terrible Tuesdays” in which bad films with cult like followings will be shown.
The second floor has a sizable surround building deck – and features swinging ‘beds’. This is an ideal perch to watch passersby going to Oxbow Public Market or those enjoying the park next to the Napa River. These are also some of the best seats in the area to watch live performances at the nearby green.
Total production each year is just under 2,000 cases, with select distribution to several states including their primary markets of California and Virginia. For more information and to join their wine club, or schedule a visit with Stephanie in Calistoga, visit: www.arataswine.com